Shouldn’t we treasure life closer to home?

June 6, 2007 | By | 2 Replies More

Many of us spend a lot of energy wondering whether there is life on Mars, on the moons of Jupiter or elsewhere in the galaxy.   If we found life out there, it would make huge headlines.

The June 2007 edition of Science has a beautiful photo of an orangutan and her baby on the front cover.   They are perched in a huge tree in Sumatra, Indonesia.   Orangutans are desperate animals because humans are wrecking their habitat.  Some scientists fear that they could go extinct in the wild within the next ten years. They are incredibly smart animals, much smarter than anything we can hope to find elsewhere in our solar system.  

Really, will we ever encounter anything out in space that emotes so much like humans, has the ability to explore, communicates proficiently with conspecifics and carefully nurtures its young?  If we found the equivalent of orangutans on another planet, we’d all be doing cartwheels that we had discovered that such amazing creatures.  If we could somehow bring back one of those [Martian] orangutans, it would be an instant celebrity.  People would do anything to see such an incredibly sentient being “from outer space.”

                  orang mom and child look in bucket.JPG

Well guess what?  Earth is a planet in “outer space,” and the orangutans are, indeed, incredibly sentient animals.  The above photo is an orang mom and baby I photographed at the St. Louis zoo this April.  See here for a photo of a contemplative orang I photographed on that same day.  You don’t need to go 30 million miles away to find incredible life forms.

Here’s the irony.  While we continue to search for simple life “out there,” we continue the wholesale devastation of the limited fragile environment of an incredible animal species. 

I realize that it’s not the same people who are doing this searching and this destruction, yet this combination remains a sad irony to me.

[In no way am I suggesting that our scientists should stop searching for life forms on other planets.  This is a worthy and exciting endeavor that, when it finally succeeds, should be humbling to the noisy anti-science pro-Bible literalist throngs that keep striving to take over the science curricula at our schools].

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Category: Environment, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Erika Price says:

    Think of all the undiscovered species of the rainforest, or of the farthest depths of the ocean. If sharks have cartilage that doesn't fall prey to cancer, and vampire bats spray an anti-coagulant saliva, what other remarkable finds await us in unknown species? Maybe we won't find another potential medical marvel in those uninspected creatures, but at the very least, we will have discovered something knew and fascinating. The space program can offer no more than that- discovery, something to "ooh" and "ahh" about.

    If we don't fully understand our own planet, and if we can't yet even handle the responsibility of one planet, why do we feel we must discover, master, and exploit another? I have a very critical opinion of the space program. The vague promise of novel discovery costs us billions of dollars, and often it fails to deliver due to human error or technological shortcomings. I think space can wait- we have a vast world of discoveries to make right here.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    The entire NASA budget is a tiny fraction compared to what we spend just to control the commerce of narcotics in our country, the War on Drugs.

    The former has given us billions of dollars annually worth of serendipitous capital improvements to our infrastructure, our medical understanding, lifesaving technologies, and occasionally something to rally around. It also develops the technologies later used to explore our oceans and jungles.

    The latter has given us the biggest bureaucracy outside of the military, and basically keeps the profits high for the traffickers.

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